Carrying Stones

Voyageur at Unplug'd 2012
Photo by @cogdog

I arrived at Unpludg this year without a finished draft of my letter.

Either out of procrastination or by an unconscious but deliberate choice, I made the journey east resolved to not panic about not having completed my draft and to try my best to remain open to the vibrations of the moment over the course of the weekend, to soak the experience in, and use the time set aside for peer editing with my group to finish the song.

Our songwriter, Bryan

Earlier in the week, I had sat at my kitchen table looking out over Burrard Inlet strumming the familiar opening chords of G major, D, and C, singing I’m gonna write myself a letter…  until I settled on the opening groove of the song. Pretty quickly I had scribbled down the opening two verses and had a chorus that scratched at a theme of a collective voice emerging from so many individual journeys out toward the Edge.

My own curiosity about this year’s event, now expanded to include international participants, centered around what a diverse selection of passionate educators (to quote Rob Fisher from last year, “People who care about education so much it hurts.”) might create in a mosaic of their voices. Last year this had seemed easier, as our focus was the ‘limited’ prospect of a Canadian identity, and I wondered what my role would be an a conversation about about a more diverse voice.

UnPlug'd 2012 Visual Notes
@giuliaforsythe's visual notes

It wasn’t that Unplugd this year wasn’t still a heartily Canadian affair, with Ontario and educators from across Canada, not to mention the Edge hosts and Voyageur, the Six String Nation guitar, playing a role in welcoming our friends and colleagues from the United States and Australia. Thursday night’s reception in Toronto, culminating in a presentation from Jowi Taylor about his journey to collect the artifacts composing Voyageur, a guitar made up of mythically charged Canadiana – Trudeau’s canoe paddle, the Golden Spruce, Maurice Richard’s Stanley Cup Ring – provided an opportunity for the story of the guitar to begin the weekend’s conversation about people and place.

Being asked to play a song on Voyageur was an honour that was both invigorating and daunting, as I knew in some ways the performance would serve as a sort of host’s welcome to our international friends and local guests. But I had little idea the emotional weight such a guitar could bear. And when the story of Jowi’s journey to have the Voyageur built wound to a close, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of having my voice, and my words, spoken through this mystical object, joining in the chorus of the pieces making up the guitar, as well as the thousands of people who have held it in their hands, and contemplated their own relationship to the country and one another through the songs Voyageur has helped them sing and hear.

Needing a few minutes to settle myself at the front of the room and hopefully provide some context for the song I had chosen to sing, I talked about the idea of Canadian soul homes, and that truths are woven in places where people are living, as Martha reminded us in this year’s opening circle, “at the pace of creation.” I had arrived in Toronto the day before having brought a stone I picked up in the estuary of Noon’s Creek near my house, a barnacle encrusted river rock forged a hundred million years ago in  Heritage Mountain that now lolled in my neighbourhood’s high tides. Thinking about how I’d found the stone earlier in the week on a low neep tide that in the fall will be carrying streams of salmon home to spawn in the creeks where they were born, and that I was now being given the opportunity to make music by playing notes that would resonate through the sacred wood of the Golden Spruce struck me as especially moving in that moment.



As it turned out, leaving my letter unfinished was the right choice.

I think about writing songs a little like archaeology: once the hook – a riff, lyric or chorus – is discovered, the rest of the song is usually nearby, obscured just below the surface of sedimentary dust. They are like puzzles, where a songwriter creates an opening image, or symbol, builds upon that theme by creation tension (either literally or musically), and then resolves that tension for their audience.

Going into the weekend, I had written the first two verses and a chorus for my letter-song, but couldn’t have written the third verse (the resolution) before Thursday night, or the rest of Unplug’d had played out. The tension of the song was created out of my own question about the experience: what would this group come together to say? I would need to write the song, and capture it, from the middle of the experience.

Writing a song on Voyageur

On Saturday afternoon, my editing group of Donna Fry, Marci Duncan, and Gail Lovely sat on yoga mats in the upstairs studio of Points North, and I played them the opening verses of the song. We had saved the song for our last edit, and had spent the day  up until that point contextualizing the meaning of each of our letters through the stories we had told one another and our emerging reflections on what the experience was teaching us. Jowi Taylor was gracious enough to let me enlist the powers of Voyageur in the composition, and he joined us for a conversation about authenticity, and truth, and the role of music, metaphors, and symbols in our collective storytelling while I sat cross-legged with the guitar in my lap.

Like each of the songs I played on Thursday night, “Carrying Stones” turned out to be a collaboration, like all art and stories are, really. Jowi and Voyageur gave me most of the words in the third verse.

The rest of the Unplug’d participants helped set it to music.

You can continue to join in the song by playing along to the lyrics and chords I’ve posted here.

30 thoughts on “Carrying Stones

  1. Great post, Bryan. I agree, you made the right choice. There is something magical about bringing people together to create a message. When put to music, it moves the soul. Your group did an amazing job. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Andrew and Giulia, for comments that arrive at the perfect moment in my start-to-finish listening to Jowi’s The Nerve show, where they address the religious uses of music – – and how the act of performing music is a combination of the creation of a vibration that moves outward, as well as the sound of which vibration moving inward on both artist and audience. On the buscast conversation he and I had on the bus home from the Edge, Jowi quoted a composer who said that “music pierces you,” and bridges something between our inner and outer lives in a physical reverberation. To be at the center of that sound when I was able to this weekend was something incredible to experience… quite a wave to ride.

    1. Bryan,

      Pleased to learn you are giving “The Nerve” a full listen. It was definitely one of the most provocative talkies in the DS106Radio rotation back in the day.

      In consideration of your current exploration of the relationship between music, humanity (humanist concerns), and the spiritual experience that is making and listening to music, I submit this Carlyle quote:

      “All deep things are Song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, Song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls! The primal element of us; of us, and of all things. The Greeks fabled of Sphere-Harmonies: it was the feeling they had of the inner-structure of Nature that the soul of all her voices and utterances was perfect music. Poetry, therefore, we will call musical Thought. The poet is he who thinks in that manner. At bottom, it turns still on the power of intellect; it is man’s sincerity and depth of vision that makes him Poet. See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it.” (

      And, I entreat you to check out the Wikipedia page (and beyond) related to “music of the spheres.” –this could all provide clues to the well-known, yet poorly documented “wormhole effect” we experience on DS106Radio.

      Thank you for framing the weekend through your experience as a music maker. Your presence at Unplug’d and beyond brings joy to my life on a daily basis.


      1. Holy smokes… In being away over the last week and remaining pretty unplugged on our family vacation, I haven’t fully digested the magnitude of the quote, or had time to look into the idea of Music of the Spheres until now.

        Thank you heartily for both!

        The spheres idea (and the wormhole effect on the radio) reminds me of some of Paul Auster’s writing – both his fiction and essays – that raises the occurrence of coincidence to a religious sort of harmony in the universe. A similar sort of ‘piercing’ effect that Jowi talked about on the bus with us.

        And perfectly, as I sit here mid-reply, you have posted a tweet to both Jowi and me citing an article that continues the very same conversation from the bus.

        The universe is just tuning up…

        1. you want more on the Music of the Spheres, a magical writer by the name of Henry Cornelius Agrippa lived in the middle 1500s. He was a contemporary of Henry VIII of England, but he lived in Germany, not England.

          The relevant section on the music of the planets is on this page, buried deep in chapter xxvi. But, some of the other stuff on this page is relevant, because he’s talking about music theory in terms of the four elements and other forces known to the medieval mind but not necessarily to ours.

          If this seems a little esoteric or off the wall, don’t mind me — but recognize that there is value for a singer/songwriter in exploring the mindsets of previous ages, and learning how to make the old stuff fresh and relevant again.

  3. This post gives a really nice insight to the art of songwriting, which as it happens is well beyond my range of personal experiences. But beeyond that, it highlights why you were the perfect choice to welcome attendees and the guitar itself, to this year’s UnPlug’d event. The words that eventually found their way into the song resonate very deeply for me. It was a genuine blessing to have the opportunity to hear three beautiful songs played through the vibrations of your vocal chords, six special strings, and a host of uniquely Canadian artifacts. Your performances with Voyageur gifted musical memories to Canadian and international participants alike. Thank you.

    Note: I think you quoted the wrong Fisher of the two brilliant educators we had on hand last year… I’m pretty sure the words you cite were originally Rob’s from the final circle.

    1. Thanks for the comment and again for the opportunity, Rodd!

      As well for the correction about Rob’s quote – I’m pretty sure you’re right.



  4. Your music Bryan is writing and poetry, and this tale itself of how it came to be is truly inspirational. Maybe we need to encourage more music stories.

    I count myself fortunate to have been there for the moments. Rock (and write) on.

    1. Thanks, Alan – a lot of my confidence to ‘go there’ at Unplug’d this year came from being a part of such a supportive community.

      Thanks, too, for being the guy who came and sat up front ; )

  5. Bryan, You have such a beautiful way with spoken words, written words and words that are sung. You have many gifts. Thank you for sharing them with us. One of my favourite moments of listening to you on Thursday night was when you looked out at the room full of people and said, “OK, can just a couple of you record this, and the rest of you watch ME?” That allowed me to truly capture the essence of that special moment for you. Thanks again, Kelly-Ann

    1. Kelly,

      Thanks for being one of the folks capturing it all ‘at the pace of creation.’

      Another great memory for me over the weekend was on Saturday afternoon, writing thank-you cards and laughing with yourself, Ben Hazzard, Dave Truss, Kathy Cassidy, Andy Forgrave and the others passing through for coffees and to drop off their essays on USB sticks, Livescribe pens, iPads… With so much of the hard work behind us (with the exception of Ben maybe), it was great to get a chance to mostly veg-out and wait to be called for dinner on some comfy couches with some great friends who are almost always too far away.

      While I am always grateful for the Archivists, there are some things I don’t need a picture of to cherish.

      Thanks for all you did to bring such a special experience to fruition.

  6. It was such a privilege to get a chance to peek inside your songwriting process at Unplug’d 2012.

    Thank you for taking the time to tell and share the whole story.

    It was amazing how four people who were complete strangers got to the point where they could share such deep places with each other and how the trust enhanced all of our writing.

    As Erin Little wrote this week, relationships are what matter. It also helps that you are a very talented wordsmith. I look forward to reading/hearing more.

    (Carrying Stones is still playing in my head)

    1. Thanks, Donna! It was an equal pleasure to see your letter burst forth so clearly and powerfully on Saturday afternoon (even if you’d been writing it in your mind for more than a month). To capture so much emotional truth in so few words is no small challenge, but I agree: the relationships we formed, and the trust we created with one another let us build these individual expressions with the help of passionate colleagues, making the pieces, and us, infinitely better.

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